Pain in Cats
Do you know when your cat is in pain?
There are several reasons why it can be very easy to miss signs that a cat is in pain:
Cats hide pain. In fact, when it comes to concealing pain from disease or injury, most cats are capable of an Academy Award-winning performance! Unlike dogs and many other animals, cats may behave overall quite normally when they are in pain. Studies with hidden cameras have shown that some cats will act fine when people are around, but then show signs of pain – such as licking at a sore area or hunching over – when they are alone. Why do cats hide pain? One big reason stems from their origins and their survival instincts in the wild. In the wild, a sick or injured animal is vulnerable to attack, so survival can depend on the animal’s ability to act like everything is fine even when something is terribly wrong.
Cats don’t exhibit signs of pain in the same way people or other animals do. Relatively quiet creatures, cats won’t bark, whine, cry or otherwise vocalize when they’re in pain. Because of this, veterinarians and cat owners alike have erroneously believed that cats don’t feel pain like humans, or at least, that they don’t feel it as much.But we know now that cats do indeed suffer from pain nearly exactly the way we do, even though they may not show it in obvious ways. So just because your cat isn’t acting like she’s in pain or isn’t crying doesn’t mean she’s not in pain.
How Do I Tell If My Cat Is In Pain?
Determining if your cat is in pain is like playing detective. You must observe and evaluate all of the evidence presented to you. Remember, just because your cat isn’t crying or showing any other overt signs of pain doesn’t mean she’s not hurting. Occasionally, cats will cry out in pain, but this is rare – most cats instead will suffer in silence.
If your cat has had a surgical procedure, or is suffering from an injury or disease that would be painful for you, assume that it’s painful for your cat, too. Having a tooth pulled hurts! So does any incision or serious injury. And cancer and other diseases can cause tremendous pain.
Strap on your detective’s hat and closely, critically observe your cat’s behavior. Changes in a cat’s behavior or normal routine often are the first signs of pain or illness. But those changes aren’t always obvious. Often, especially early in the course of illness or if a cat is experiencing only mild to moderate pain, these differences can be quite subtle, and they may be the only signs that a cat exhibits.
So the better you know your cat’s usual way of doing things, the more likely you are to pick up on cues that your cat may be hurting.
How Do We Relieve My Cat’s Pain?
Don’t ever give cats human medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Cats metabolize (physically process) drugs differently than most other species, so human painkillers can be toxic to cats unless they are given in the proper dose and at the proper intervals. This is especially true for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories medications, such as Advil (ibuprofen), and can be deadly for cats.
That said, your veterinarian can provide a number of medications, from pills to patches, to safely help your cat feel more comfortable. Multiple drugs may even be used to enhance the effects of each other.
Onsior (robenacoxib) is an NSAID that is used short term in cats. It is mainly used post-operatively for up to 3 days. It has been shown to effectively control pain in cats for 24 hours per dose.
Other pain medications such as tramadol and gabapentin are effectively used in cats for longer duration pain control.
Are There Additional Treatment Options?
In some extreme cases, drug therapy is not enough to result in a good quality of life for the cat. Additional treatment options that can be employed along with drug therapy to alleviate pain and improve quality of life include acupuncture, laser therapy (use of light energy to reduce pain and enhance healing), physical rehabilitation and massage therapy. Your veterinarian can talk to you about these options as well.
Another good option for cats is the Assisi Loop. It is a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory device that can be used in the clinic or at home. To learn more see our treatment options page.
When treating cats following surgery – both for inpatients and outpatients – NSAH veterinarians are very aggressive with pain management. We believe it is far better to prevent pain before it begins than to wait until it is present to treat it. When we expect that a cat will experience pain, we try to prevent its occurrence, or at least greatly decrease its severity, by administering pain medications pre-emptively. We always administer two to three different pain medications to all of our surgical patients pre-operatively.
Cats most definitely feel pain. Research shows that cats suffer from pain in nearly exactly the same way we do.
Cats hide pain, and they’re very good at it! Just because cats don’t cry or otherwise show signs of being in pain doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting.
It’s important to treat pain in cats for both their short- and long-term health, and because it’s the humane thing to do.
If it would be painful for you, it’s painful for your cat.
Behavioral changes resulting from pain can be extremely subtle, and it may not be obvious that they’re signs of pain. Inform your North Scottsdale Animal Hospital veterinarian of any behavioral changes.
Pain can be caused by illness, disease, debilitating condition, injury, surgery, infection or inflammation, or be secondary to an illness or debilitating condition.
Never, ever, give human pain medication to your cat without consulting with your North Scottsdale Animal Hospital veterinarian.
A wide variety of medications and treatments, including alternative or non-drug therapies, are available to alleviate cats’ pain and help them feel more comfortable.